What Brexit teaches us about Leadership

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What is leadership?

There are a multitude of definitions out there concerning leadership, but basically it seems to boil down to the ability of an individual to influence and guide their followers in a specific direction.  In business and in other forms of life it will also involve making sound — and sometimes difficult — decisions, creating and articulating a clear vision of a future state, establishing achievable goals and providing followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to achieve those goals.

An effective leader will commonly possess the following characteristics: integrity, self-confidence, strong communication and management skills, creative and innovative thinking, perseverance in the face of failure, willingness to take risks, openness to change, level-headedness and reactive in times of crisis.

For those of us in the business world, individuals who exhibit these leadership qualities deserve to ascend to executive management, and many possess the characteristics of strong transformational leaders when facing the modern marketplace – where a leader works with teams to identify needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executing the change in tandem with committed members of a group.  Transformational leadership serves to enhance the motivation, morale and identity of their followers.

But Brexit has raised the question of what leadership means in today’s political culture when faced with leading significant social and cultural change, and whether our political systems have lost their ability to develop politicians who can really lead societies?

To help Mrs M, Mr C and all their colleagues here is a simple listing of leadership traits that many in business accept and understand as essential elements when leading others:

  1. Communication – what you say in public matters – you cannot criticize Europe and Brussels as bogeymen then turn around and ask for a ‘yes’ from the British people to stay in Europe

  2. Vision – When seeking to introduce a significant directional change, leaders need a clear vision, a belif in it, and a sense of purpose that others can follow.

  3. Leading Change – Change management programmes are inherently difficult and you need to be well prepared before proceeding down that route.

  4. Accountability – If you ask a manager to accomplish something, you don’t go off and work on Plan B before he reports back to you.

  5. Guarantees – If you make commitments (i.e. in your Manifesto) your shareholders and stakeholders will expect you to follow through on them.

  6. Trust – similarly lying to shareholders and stakeholders rapidly destroys trust and what they then hear afterwards they will distrust.

  7. Branding – No CEO should damage their organisation’s brand in the marketplace.

  8. Listening skills – The need to listen to the workforce is essential – ‘have I made my position very clear’ on this?

  9. Avoid ‘kitchen cabinet’ leadership – Leaders need the support of their teams, not a small subset of favoured advisers of the same mindset.

  10. Diversity and a mix of experience in the workplace builds strong team and generates options.

Why do they believe it is different in politics?

Strong well led organisations make their own destiny, and don’t become reliant on a single client or just one marketplace to survive in.

If the current state of Brexit teaches us anything, it is perhaps that the old models of political leadership are becoming redundant in today’s society and that today’s leaders have become visionless, unable to inspire us to follow them, and no longer have the right to be called ‘leaders’.

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